Sweden’s most racist, nationalistic and out-of-touch election campaign in living memory has produced, appropriately enough, a government with a policy to make life worse for workers, while blaming it on immigrants. But no amount of racist slander can hide the enormous problems facing the Swedish masses. We must prepare for class struggle.
The results of Sunday's election are not yet finalised, but what is already clear is that it was extremely close and that the Social Democrats will most likely lose power to a right-wing coalition consisting of the liberal-conservative Moderates, the Liberals, the Christian Democrats, and the racist right-wing party Sweden Democrats (SD). The fact that the SD, as the second-largest party, now looks set to have a decisive influence in the coming parliamentary term opens the door to a period of massive political turbulence.
Faced with a severe crisis of capitalism, the bourgeoisie is in desperate need of a safe pair of hands with whom to entrust political power. The virtual collapse of the established parties could therefore not come at a worse time.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, the Moderates have been the main political weapon of the ruling class. Now this party has been removed from its position as the second largest party in Sweden by the SD, a position the Moderates have held since 1979.
Those sections of the bourgeoisie who worry about the anger that a government with the SD might provoke have watched in horror as the Social Democrats and the Moderates have continued to lose even more voters to the SD. The Social Democrats may have increased their vote slightly compared to the last election, but they still look set to get their second-worst result since the introduction of universal suffrage.
Confidence in the ‘sensible’ and ‘reasonable’ politicians of the so-called ‘political centre’ is waning significantly. The Centre Party, the Liberals and the Christian Democrats are all down compared to the last election, and the Green Party has faced yet another poor result.
It is not difficult to see why. These parties offer no alternative to the current discredited policy. In the municipalities and regions where they have been in government, they have carried out major cuts and privatisations. In Vilhelmina, where the Centre Party has been the driving force behind the closure of village schools, the party has lost 18 percent of their vote share, and the pattern is repeated in municipality after municipality.
The only party that actually made advances was the SD, who, unlike the old parties, are still not seen as responsible for the decades of worsening conditions suffered by the working class.
Widening class divide
Since the 1980s, class divisions have increased dramatically in Sweden, which has gone from being one of the world’s most equal countries to the country where dollar billionaires have the most wealth in relation to the economy as a whole. The consequences of the crisis of capitalism can be seen everywhere: in healthcare, schools, housing and the labour market.
During the pandemic years, overtime for nurses in the five largest hospitals was equivalent to 450 full-time positions, and this year overtime has only continued to increase. Nine out of 10 people live in municipalities with housing shortages and, according to a new report by Arbetet, unemployment is over three-times higher in poor communities compared to the rest of the country.
On top of that, rising inflation (now at 9 percent), mortgage rates and electricity prices risk triggering a new recession. According to the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce, 1.1 million households will have electricity bills of €8,000 between October and March. Inflation and rising interest rates alone could lead to up to €10 billion in increased costs for households if mortgage rates reach 4 percent.
The fragile situation is illustrated by the fact that one in five people in Sweden say they would not be able to cope with an unexpected expense of €1,100. It is therefore not surprising that the number of outstanding electricity payments to the Enforcement Authority has increased by 20 percent in just six months and that lending at pawnbrokers is breaking all previous records, as many people are forced to pawn their possessions and borrow money to pay the month's bills.
But none of this was the focus of the election campaign. Solutions to these major problems were absent from all the election debates. Even parts of the middle class are finding it hard to make ends meet, and many understand that politicians’ proposals for financial compensation to households are just a matter of tinkering here and there. More and more people are undeniably asking themselves: does it even matter how I vote?
As one farmer, who had the chance to ask a question to the party leaders during an election debate, explained:
“No one had the best answer. There was a lot of talk about expensive fuel and how to make it cheaper. But even if it was completely free, it would not be enough with the current cost situation. The support given to agriculture is just artificial respiration for a dying industry. None of the parties had a good answer to this. If this is the best they’ve got, it is not good enough. If we are to retain Swedish agriculture, we need more than talk. We cannot farm on a non-profit basis.”
This is the kind of change in consciousness that is taking place among workers, youth and even the petty bourgeoisie in Sweden, a country where the population once had massive illusions in bourgeois democracy and the ability of the Labour movement to gradually reform capitalism into something better. But as capitalism in Sweden has not offered improvements in decades and with the Labour movement having moved to the right, the old beliefs are now being questioned one by one. This has serious implications for the stability of Swedish capitalism.
Two right-wing blocs: racism as a leitmotif
In the election, the voters were faced with two coalitions, both offering right-wing politics. The Social Democrats and the Left Party, part of a semi-official ‘centre-left’ coalition, did promise to “take back control over welfare”. But the Social Democrats have been in power for 20 of the last 28 years and have never moved from words to deeds.
The whole election campaign was dominated by competition between the Social Democrats, the established right-wing parties and the SD over who could make life most difficult for refugees and anyone living in so-called ‘vulnerable areas’ (i.e. neighbourhoods with high crime rates and social exclusion), in a bid to show that they could be toughest on organised crime.
The longer the election campaign went on, the more venomous the rhetoric, and more extreme the proposals from all the parties. The Liberals proposed that two-year-olds could be tested on their Swedish and then forcibly taken into state custody if it was deemed inadequate. The SD’s legal policy spokesperson Tobias Andersson tweeted a picture of a metro train in Stockholm adorned with SD advertising: “Welcome to the immigration train. You hold a one-way ticket. Next stop, Kabul.”
The SD’s proposals have included dawn raids to find refugees without residence permits, deportation of entire families if a person has committed a crime, and to make “antisocial lifestyles” (read: being unemployed or on sick leave) a legal basis for deportation. The Christian Democrats’ party leader Ebba Busch, not wanting to be out done, has criticised the police for not firing sharply on the riots that broke out in response to the far-right Rasmus Paludan’s tour of major Swedish cities, where he burned the Quran. She said that there should have been “at least 100 wounded Islamists, 100 wounded criminals, 100 wounded rioters”.
The Social Democrats, for their part, have already implemented large parts of their 34-point programme against organised crime, which includes setting up an inquiry into giving the police the right to use ‘secret coercive measures’ (surveillance, wiretapping, data collection), even without any concrete basis for suspecting a crime. The temporary restrictions on the right to asylum from 2015 have been made permanent and new rules have been introduced, such as the addition to the EBO Act, whereby asylum seekers living in so-called ‘vulnerable areas’ lose their right to benefits.
The crowning achievement is Integration Minister Anders Ygeman’s statements that Sweden should emulate the Danish so-called ghetto laws, with maximum limits on the proportion of people with foreign backgrounds or low income in an area. This would of course require unprecedented population movements, but the purpose of such statements is not to solve any problems (other than for ministers who are afraid of losing their jobs). The aim, as for other parties, was to win votes by concealing their own anti-worker policies with racist phrase-mongering.
The Liberal Party leader Johan Pehrson was unusually honest about this in an interview with Swedish Radio, about why his party has started to cooperate with the SD:
“I can only say that the parties on the fringes have grown while the rest of us have been unable to solve key societal problems. Then we tend to have growing parties that say it’s all the fault of the immigrants, while others say it’s the fault of the rich.”
Unfortunately, however, no one is saying it’s the fault of the rich. Both the Social Democrats and the Right have implemented major cuts and austerity that have contributed to widening class divisions over the past 40 years. And neither the Right nor the Social Democrats want to reduce those class divisions, because it would mean taking money (and property) from the capitalists. Both are intent on pursuing policies that favour the interests of the Swedish capitalists.
The government of the last eight years, the Social Democrats, in alliance with the Greens, and the Centre Party (and to a large extent the Left party), has been the most right-wing Social-Democrat-led government ever. They have cut taxes, curtailed the right to strike, ensured that a worsening of job security was pushed through, and planned to introduce market rents. Now they are bringing Sweden into NATO, rearming the Swedish military, deporting Kurds to Turkey and increasing arms exports. At the same time, the main message of Magdalena Andersson (the leader of the Social Democrats) in the election campaign has been the need for broad agreements. There has not been a single issue on which she has not wanted to reach an agreement with the Moderates.
There is enormous dissatisfaction with right-wing politics and the right-wing drift of the Social Democrats, but there are no parties prepared to put forward an alternative to it. That is why both the Right and the Social Democrats need to use racism to deflect dissatisfaction away from themselves. Lest workers realise that their problems are due to capitalism and right-wing political policies, they do their best, eagerly encouraged by their lackeys in the bourgeois media, to pit one section of the working class against another.
Unsurprisingly, this has benefited the SD, who for the first time have managed to become the second-largest party after the Social Democrats. It is only becoming more and more incomprehensible to many working-class voters why the Social Democrats are so keen to cooperate with the Moderates but cannot imagine making a deal with the SD, when they have essentially embraced their policies and rhetoric.
Many workers have concluded that the other parties, besides the SD, simply cannot be trusted. Some have been led to believe the racist propaganda that the ‘cost of immigration’ has caused the cuts in welfare. Others simply seem to be so fed up with the Social Democrats and their discredited policies, that they have gone over to the SD. They have not yet understood that the SD stands for even worse right-wing politics.
Faced with this never-ending stream of nationalistic and racist propaganda, it is not surprising that the newly formed party Nyans (‘nuance’) has made a big impact in the suburbs of the big cities, that are dominated by poor workers and immigrants. In the municipal elections, preliminary figures show that Nyans received 31 percent in the Rosengård centre constituency in Malmö and 25% in Svarte Mosse in Gothenburg.
This is a party that deliberately reaches out to Muslims and tries to win votes by speaking out against Islamophobia, with proposals such as separate bathing hours for women, a ban on burning the Quran and a ban on drawings of the Prophet Muhammad. They also promote classic left-wing demands such as more cheap rental housing, trying to portray themselves as a ‘left-wing party’, despite the fact that their founder is a former Centre Party member.
This is one of many manifestations of increasing polarisation, which is fundamentally rooted in the widening class divide and the sharpening of class antagonism, but which takes on confused and reactionary expressions due to the lack of alternatives to the left.
The Left Party is paying the price for its rightward shift
Dissatisfaction with right-wing politics meant that the Left Party had every chance of achieving great success in this election. Last summer, the Left Party reached a record high of 13.3 percent in opinion polls. Why? Because for once they put their foot down on the government’s proposal to introduce market rents (i.e. the end of rent control) for newly-built residential developments, and actually kept their promises and ousted the government by a no-confidence vote. That shows what people want: a party with bold demands that stands up for its policies. But the leadership of the Left Party came to the opposite conclusion.
Instead of aiming their demands towards the working class, they talk about cooperation with industry, investment and Swedish competitiveness. The Left Party leaders have done everything to distance themselves from the anti-capitalist sections of the party programme. Nooshi Dadgostar (the leader of the Left Party) appeared on national television earlier this year, explaining that the democratically decided party programme was “old” and therefore “definitely not the one we are running on”, which she later repeated during SVT’s party leader interviews on 28 August. Their election campaign was the most bland and watered-down ever, with election posters bearing platitudes like “Nooshi 2022: others promise, we act” or “With the courage to change”. And the closer they got to the election, the more they talked about wanting to form a government with the right-wing Centre Party.
“No red lines and ultimatums”, “I will have to sit down and negotiate”, “I will of course have to give up on some things”, was Dadgostar’s message in an interview when asked about the possibility of being in a coalition government with the Centre Party.
The principled stance adopted last summer is gone, and with it the support of voters. The party is no longer seen as an alternative to the current right-wing policies and is punished accordingly. From a peak of 13.3 percent, their support was halved to 6.7 percent, a worse result than in the 2018 elections.
Step by step, they have watered down their demands or stopped talking about them altogether. Traditional Left Party demands such as a six-hour working day or a ban on temporary employment agencies are never raised anymore. They allowed the Social Democrats to hijack the question of private welfare companies subsidised by tax money. Although Dadgostar often criticised these private corporations during election debates, it was unclear what concrete proposals they wanted to put forward to deal with them. The obvious demand for a left-wing party would have been for nationalisation of all private companies in the welfare sector, without compensation to owners who have become millionaires and billionaires by plundering health, school and social care of resources that should have gone to children, the sick and the elderly.
In the case of the high electricity prices, too, one might have expected demands for the re-regulation of the electricity market and an end to the chaos that the market has caused. But the Left Party is no more willing than the Social Democrats to take the capitalists’ property away from them. The fact that 100 companies account for 70 percent of the world’s emissions should be used as an argument for nationalising them under workers’ control and for the need of a planned economy to solve the climate crisis. For Dadgostar, it is instead an argument for giving more money to the capitalists to help them use more climate-friendly methods in production.
During both the pandemic and the war in Ukraine, the Left Party has obediently endorsed the government’s rhetoric on the need for national unity. On paper, the Left Party remains opposed to NATO membership. But at the same time they have made sure to prepare for such a move by loudly taking part in anti-Russian and pro-western propaganda. Instead of declaring that Swedish capitalism has its own imperialist interests in the conflict with Russia and exposing NATO, it voted for arms for Ukraine and for increased military spending. When three Left Party MPs protested the agreement with Erdogan, posing with the flags of the Kurdish organisations PKK, YPG and YPJ, Dadgostar distanced herself from the action by saying that she had not sanctioned it.
This shift to the right has now been punished. Admittedly, the party increased its support marginally in the big cities. But the potential was much greater, not least in the suburbs. The votes that went to Nyans could have gone to the Left Party. In the face of the tremendous racist propaganda, the Left Party should have been the party that led the counter-offensive. But the leadership of the Left Party made it a political strategy during the election to remain largely silent on the issue in order to try to win votes in rural areas. But this failed completely. Instead, the Left Party lost ground, while the SD made big gains in the previously robust red strongholds in Northern Sweden.
The result of the rightward shift of the Social Democrats and the Left Party is that the working class has been left without an alternative to the racist poison.
Build for socialism!
Sweden is entering a period of crisis, instability and class struggle. Many workers will be hit hard by the economic crisis with rising electricity prices, inflation and interest rates. Many families are already struggling to make ends meet. Already in January, a pensioner told the local newspaper about the unsustainable situation:
“I have to freeze and eat less food. For my husband, who has just had an operation, the cold is the worst – when we wake up it's less than 18 degrees in the apartment. But we can't afford to have anything more on than the radiator in the bathroom ... I shower every four days. And still I have electricity bills of SEK 4,000 [€380].”
This is just the beginning. In this situation, the working class has no option but to fight back. For decades the leadership of the labour movement has done everything in its power to contain the class struggle, with historically few strikes in the last decade, but as a consequence they have also lost more and more of the authority they once had. That authority was built up in the post-war period when capitalism was actually able to deliver improvements for the working class. In recent decades, the Swedish Trade Union Confederation (LO) leadership has instead helped the capitalists to hold back wage increases, while the Social Democrats has implemented austerity. The loss of confidence in the labour movement has so far mainly been expressed in a distorted way through the increased support for the SD.
But it is only a matter of time before discontent overflows and the leadership becomes unable to contain the class struggle. Already, the chief economist of the LO is talking about how difficult it will be to hold back wage demands in collective bargaining because of pressure from below. Especially if we no longer have a government led by the Social Democrats, but a right-wing government with SD as the largest party, which is set to go head-on against the working class: with more cuts, privatisations and attacks against the working class – combined with a racist onslaught.
The chauvinist propaganda has already led to significant backlash, as we saw during the Black Lives Matter demonstrations in the summer of 2020 and in a confused way with the riots during Rasmus Paludan’s tour this spring and earlier riots in the suburbs. This is just a taste of what is to come. Racism is the bourgeoisie and politicians’ favoured method of diverting attention from the problems of capitalism. A situation in which the SD holds the reins – in or out of government – will provoke a response unlike anything we have seen before. Anger is seething beneath the surface among workers in the poor neighbourhoods.
Nor can the racist propaganda succeed in diverting attention from the real problems for long. Racism cannot pay electricity bills, conjure up low-rent housing, or raise pensions. Sooner or later, class interests assert themselves.
The Moderates’ party leader Ulf Kristersson is no doubt optimistic about his chances for boosting his personal prestige as leader of the most right-wing Swedish government in modern times. But his characteristic smirk may soon be replaced by an almighty headache. With a deepening crisis, the task of governing with the support of both the Sweden Democrats and the Liberals may well prove an impossible equation. New government crises are on the agenda.
If the last few years have been marked by increased turbulence, it will be nothing compared to the coming years. ‘Calm and stable Sweden’ will turn into its opposite.
The basis for this is the impasse of the capitalist system. None of the major problems we see today have any solutions within capitalism. The climate crisis, the crisis in welfare and increasing poverty require the abolition of capitalism. There is only one way out that is not at the expense of the working class, and that is a socialist revolution. Capitalism will continue to go from one crisis to another and at each new stage it will be the world's workers and poor who pay the price. The choice we face is socialism or barbarism.
In the period of class struggle that we are facing, a real revolutionary alternative is needed that can show the way out of the darkness of capitalism. That is what we are building in Revolution and the IMT. There is no time to lose. Join us in the struggle.